Toy hospitals again!

posted in: Ernst Jandl, Norman Junge | 8
Photo: Mike Cogh
Photo: Mike Cogh

Playing hospitals is a perennially popular activity around here – indeed I’ve blogged about it before, and with a rather mega hospital-related birthday present on the way to M from her Grandparents, I’ve been on the look out for some fantastic hospital themed story books. Well, last week I found one – but I fell so much in love with it that I couldn’t bring myself to keep it a secret till M’s birthday – I’m afraid it just had to be shared and read *right now*!

Next, Please by Ernst Jandl, illustrated by Norman Junge is the simplest of stories, about a handful of dilapidated, much loved toys whom we meet waiting in a gloomy, unadorned room. It is not clear what is going on… The text is sparse, each page with just one or two very short lines, but the pared-down storytelling turns out to work wonderfully well with the charming, intriguing illustrations which provide clues as to what the toys are waiting for.

M, J and I were held captive from page 1 of the story. The opening line (“Five are waiting“), accompanied by an illustration of five different toys with various bandages, broken parts or bits missing gives little away. M, of course, immediately asked “Waiting for what?”. The next page only made us more curious; we see the door to the room where the toys are waiting open wide, casting a shaft of bright light in front of the toys. Out through that door trundles a little ladybird, though it is not clear where she has been or what has happened to her.

With a puzzled look on M’s face she quickly turned the next page. “‘Next, please.’ One goes in” is all that accompanies the illustration of a wind-up penguin who has lost his flippers as he wobbles his way out of the darkened waiting room. Then we got our first indication of what might be going on behind the mysterious door: suddenly it bursts open with another shaft of bright light and gust of wind and the penguin reappears, now boasting a wonderful new set of flippers.


Spurred on by suspense and hopeful anticipation we rushed through the rest of the book, watching as each toy waits for his turn to visit what lies beyond the dark door – and we were rewarded on the final page with a revelation that made us all happy and relieved. This is certainly not a story like some where dark secrets are held behind locked doors, although right to the end there is always something a little unnerving about what might be going on out of sight.

Apart from the lovely story and brilliant illustrations that fed perfectly into M’s love of toy hospitals, I was happy to find this book because it is a translation from German (originally titled fünfter sein). Although I’m grateful for the rich heritage we have of children’s books written in English, I’m always on the look out for books translated from other languages. Sometimes they can provide windows into different cultural understandings, and often a fresh take on illustration or storytelling.

The sight of the 5 poorly toys all in need of some TLC has, of course, ensured that we have spent most of this week playing toy hospital. We introduced some new aspects to our play this time around, including the creation of some shiny hospital equipment.

We used:

  • an empty shoe box
  • silver foil
  • sellotape (scotch tape)
  • a load of plastic lids (we found plastic lids from milk cartons to be ideal)
  • some paper fasteners (like these)
  • some number stickers
  • a black pen
  • a long knitting needle
  • a till receipt roll (although we could have used a toilet roll instead I suppose)
  • two lengths of cable (but you could use string or yarn)
  • 1. I cut a rectangular hole in the side of the shoe box and then M covered everything in silver foil.

    2. I used the knitting needle to make holes in the centre of all the plastic lids. M and J then inserted the paper fasteners. Again using the knitting needle M made holes in the top of the shoe box (through the silver foil). M and J inserted the lids and paper fasteners into the holes and then opened out the fasteners on the inside of the box. This meant that the lids were attached to the box and could be rotated – the idea was that these were to be various dials on the machine.


    3. Next the girls used the number stickers to put around the dials, and used the black pen to add arrows “so that accurate readings can be taken”…


    4. Then I took the long knitting needle and pushed it through the side of the box. Next, I inserted the till roll onto the needle (inside the box) and pushed the needle through the other side of the box. I took the start of the till roll and fed it through the hole in the shoe box we’d made right at the start. The idea behind all this was to create something that could give us a read-out.


    5. Using sellotape (scotch tape) we attached the 2 lengths of cable to the machine, and then the other ends of the cable to poor Barney who needed to undergo some serious medical investigation.


    This machine was great fun to make and has seen lots of use since. It could easily be adapted to be a space rocket console as well, which is always useful!

    In addition to our super high-tech hospital equipment M set up separate hospital departments (large printouts, coloured in, stuck on cardboard and hung up) for the Operating Theatre (fully equipped with knives from our plastic food and cafe set, although I wouldn’t want to be operated on with that pizza cutter!)…


    ….for Ward 1, my favourite item being the drip bags made out of airlocks meant for homebrewing, bought cheaply at Wilkinsons (there are 2 visible in this photo -one attached to the edge of the bookcase)…

    …. and the X-Ray Department (key items: anglepoise lamp that can be switched on and off, and black paper with white crayons so that the girls could draw the x-rays).


    Lots of fun all round!

    next_please_frontcover Next, Please: 3star

    Whilst playing hospitals we’ve been listening to the classic St James Hospital sung by Pete Seeger, the tongue-in-cheek Hospital Song by Mache Seibel and Hospital Blues by Cherry Casino and the Gamblers, just because it’s good for a boogie.

    Next time (and there will be a next time) we play hospitals I’ll try to get round to making a stethoscope, like this one from ehow, and we’ll create a surgeon’s outfit, using a shower cap, a surgical mask and some rubber gloves.

    8 Responses

    1. Kristine

      Our daughters are two of a kind. Mine also absolutely loves playing doctors, and the variations of vet and child health nurse. I have been fixing up our home made medical kit to make it sturdier so I’ll post it when I get a chance to finish the final coat of papier mache. I realised the other day that my daughter’s play had progressed past mine. I was bathing a doll basically imitating what I normally do. Meanwhile she was feeding another doll. Suddenly she ripped her out of the highchair. Lay her down and started cutting open her chest, because she was choking. So I’m simply imitating and she’s showing true imagination!

    2. vanessa@silly eagle books

      This is incredible! The machine with dials is genius and I LOVE Ward 1!! What fun. I will have to try this with Juliet one day. We love Dr. Rabbit by Jan Wahl and Who’s Sick Today? by Lynne Cherry.

    3. Ashley

      I’ve so many happy memories of playing “hospitals” with my eldest two, usually I ended up being swathed in toilet roll bandages, nothing as sophisticated as your set up, hehe.
      I really need to get a few more hospital themed books.

    4. magg, red ted art

      Thanks Zoe for your comment and links (on my blog) – much appreciated! We have this book too. Bought a book of old German ditties and poems and found it in there again – so looks like it has “older origins” too – will need to investigate as like to teach Red Ted where things come from! Nice that there is such a lovely book to go with it and lovely craft project you guys made of it (as always)!

      Great that you are doing Dutch with your girls! I never thought of how the German’s translate anything meaning that “we” get a broader range of books (I have been so keen on “German German things”, that I forgot to look beyond!). Thanks for that, will take advantage of new found richness in “our” literature 😉

      Maggy x

    5. magg, red ted art

      PS maybe fantastic fiction theme should be “German books translated into English” – The above one. The mole and the poo one (sorry). And shockheaded peter spring to mind (nevermind all the fairytales from the Grimm brothers). I am sure if I/ we dig deeper there are more?

      Maggy x

    6. Ross Mannell

      What a wonderful idea!
      As well as being a teacher, I spent a few years as a child care worker (playgroup leader) on weekends in a hospital’s children’s ward. It can be hard for children facing the unknown, especially if parents can’t always be with them. the activity would help them role play to overcome anxiety.
      Ross Mannell
      Ross Mannell recently posted..The best teacher of children- in brief- is one who is essentially childlike” H L Mencken

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